May

Celebrate Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

May Highlights in US Women’s History

  • May 1, 1950 – Gwendolyn Brooks becomes the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, named Library of Congress’s Consultant in Poetry (later called Poet Laureate) in 1985
  • May 5, 1938 – Dr. Dorothy H. Andersen presents results of her medical research identifying the disease cystic fibrosis at a meeting of the American Pediatric Association
  • May 6 – 12 Nurses Week
  • May 8, 1914 – President Woodrow Wilson signs a Proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day
  • May 10, 1872 – Victoria Woodhull is nominated as the first woman candidate for U.S. president for the Equal Rights Party
  • May 12, 1968 – A 12-block Mother’s Day march of “welfare mothers” is held in Washington, D.C., led by Coretta Scott King accompanied by Ethel Kennedy
  • May 15, 1970 – Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington officially receive their ranks as U.S. Army Generals, becoming the first women to do so
  • May 21, 1932 – Amelia Earhart Putnam becomes the first woman to complete a solo-transatlantic flight by flying 2,026 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland in just under 15 hours
  • May 21, 1973 – Lynn Genesko, a swimmer, receives the first athletic scholarship awarded to a woman (University of Miami)
  • May 29, 1977 – Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to qualify for and complete the Indy 500 car race
  • May 29, 1943 – “Rosie the Riveter” by Norman Rockwell appears on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post

May Birthdays

  • May 1, 1830 (1930) – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, labor leader and organizer
  • May 1, 1924 – Evelyn Boyd Granville, the second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from an American University (Yale, 1949)
  • May 3, 1894 (1989) – Phyllis Greenacres, psychoanalyst, interest in physical maturation and psychological development in children led to study of gifted infants, wrote Swift and Carroll (1955), a biographical study in applied analysis
  • May 3, 1898 (1987) – Septima Clark, educator, civil rights activist, called “The Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement”
  • May 3, 1901 (1981) – Estelle Massey Osborne, first African-American nurse to earn a master’s degree, integrated the American Nurses Association and served on its board of directors (1948-52)
  • May 3, 1912 (1995) – May Sarton, prolific writer, poet, and memoirist, published in Poetry magazine at 17 years of age, she also taught at several universities including Harvard and Wellesley
  • May 4, 1922 (2015) – Eugenie Clark, ichthyologist known for both her research on shark behavior and her study of fish in the order Tetraodontiformes, popularly known as “The Shark Lady”
  • May 5, 1864 (1922) – Elizabeth Seaman, pen name “Nellie Bly,” investigative journalist, wrote expose of mental asylum (1887), set a record for circling the world in 72 days (1890)
  • May 5, 1921 (2008) – Del Martin, lesbian rights pioneer, who along with her wife Phyllis Ann Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco (1955) the first social and political organization for lesbians in the U.S., they were the first same-sex couple to be married in California (2004 and 2008)
  • May 5, 1942 (1998) – Tammy Wynette, country music singer, after first success in 1967 had more than 20 songs go to #1, she received a Grammy Award for “Stand By Your Man” (1968)
  • May 6, 1922 – Gloria Richardson, civil rights activist in Maryland in the 1960s
  • May 7, 1945 (1926) – Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the U.S. 
  • May 8, 1910 (1981) – Mary Lou Williams, jazz composer, became piano chair and writer for Benny Goodman (1931), wrote “The Zodiac Suite” for jazz ensemble, played it at New York’s Town Hall (1945)
  • May 9, 1906 (1994) – Sarah Boyle, Virginia writer, supported immediate integration in 1962 with The Desegregated Heart, was arrested and jailed in St. Augustine (1964), railed against age discrimination in the 1970s and 80s
  • May 9, 1907 (1978) – Kathryn Kuhlman, evangelist, known internationally for her faith healing; somewhat controversial, she hosted regular services in Los Angeles, and later developed radio and television programs
  • May 9, 1917 (2013) – Fay Kanin, screenwriter, nominated for Academy Award for Teacher’s Pet (1958), won two Emmy Awards for Tell Me Where It Hurts (1974) and for producing Friendly Fire with Carol Burnett (1979), second woman to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1979-83)
  • May 9, 1928 (1987) – Graciela Olivárez, lawyer who advocated for civil rights and for the poor, the first woman and the first Latina to graduate from the Notre Dame Law School (1970), appointed Director of the Community Services Administration by President Carter, making her the highest ranking Latina in his administration (1977)
  • May 10, 1897 (1985) – Margaret Mahler, psychoanalyst, developed the separation-individuation theory of child development and the Tripartite Treatment Model in which a mother participates in the treatment of her child
  • May 10, 1958 – Ellen Ochoa, engineer, former astronaut and the current Director of the Johnson Space Center, the first Hispanic woman in the world to go to space when she served aboard the shuttle Discovery
  • May 11, 1875 (1912) – Harriet Quimby, first American woman to become a licensed airplane pilot (1911), first woman to fly across the English Channel (1912)
  • May 11, 1894 (1991) – Martha Graham, modern dance innovator and choreographer, first dancer to perform at the White House
  • May 11, 1906 (1975) – Ethel Weed, military officer in the Women’s Army Corp., promoted women’s rights and suffrage in Japan
  • May 12, 1900 (1994) – Mildred H. McAfee, first director of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the United States Navy during World War II, first woman commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve and the first woman to receive the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, first woman to serve on the boards of New York Life Insurance, the New York Public Library, and RCA, she served as president of Wellesley College, a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and co-chair of President John F. Kennedy’s Women’s Committee for Civil Rights
  • May 12, 1907 (2003) – Katharine Hepburn, actor, performed for more than 60 years, won four Academy Awards for best actress including The Philadelphia Story and On Golden Pond, named top American screen legend of all time by American Film Institute (1999)
  • May 12, 1910 (2005) – Maida Springer Kemp, American labor organizer who worked extensively in Africa for the AFL-CIO, she advised fledgling labor unions, set up education and training programs, and liaised between American and African labor leaders
  • May 14, 1890 (1983) – Margaret Naumburg, progressive educator, founded the Walden School in New York, early pioneer of art therapy, developed Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy
  • May 15, 1857 (1911) – Williamina Fleming, Scottish-American astronomer, as one of the first women hired as the “Harvard Computers,” she helped develop a common designation system for stars and cataloged thousands of stars and other astronomical phenomena
  • May 15, 1901 (1963) – Dorothy H. Andersen, the American physician who was the first person to identify cystic fibrosis and the first American physician to describe the disease
  • May 15, 1937 – Madeline Albright, first woman U.S. Secretary of State (1997-2001)
  • May 15, 1938 – Diane Nash, civil rights activist, and a leader and strategist of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement, her efforts included the first successful civil rights campaign to integrate lunch counters, the Freedom Riders,  co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and co-initiating the Alabama Voting Rights Project and working on the Selma Voting Rights Movement
  • May 16, 1902 (1986) – Elizabeth Nord, labor organizer, one of the leaders of the great textile strike of 1934 and the first woman to serve on the executive board of the Textile Workers Union of America
  • May 17, 1912 (2006) – Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, African-American inventor most noted for her development of the sanitary belt
  • May 18, 1970 – Tina Fey, television writer, producer, and actor, first woman head writer for Saturday Night Live (1999), creator of television series 30 Rock, youngest winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (2010)
  • May 19, 1921 (2014) – Yuri Kochiyama, civil rights and political activist, influenced by her Japanese American family’s internment and her association with Malcolm X, she advocated for many causes, including Black separatism, the anti-war movement, Maoist revolution, reparations for Japanese-American internees, and the rights of people imprisoned by the U.S. government
  • May 19, 1930 (1965) – Lorraine Hansberry, first African-American woman to write a Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • May 20, 1894 (1988) – Adela St. Johns, journalist and screen writer, covered the Lindbergh baby trial, abdication of Edward VIII, and the Dempsey-Tunney boxing match; wrote celebrity interviews
  • May 20, 1899 or 1900 (1991) – Lydia Cabrera, Cuban artist, created a legacy of preserving Afro-Cuban culture, beliefs, rituals, songs, stories, and language
  • May 23, 1810 (1850) – Margaret Fuller, journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate, the first full-time American woman book reviewer in journalism, her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the U.S.
  • May 24, 1878 (1972) – Lillian Moller Gilbreth, psychologist, industrial engineer, consultant, one of the first woman engineers to earn a Ph.D., considered to be the first industrial/organizational psychologist
  • May 24, 1898 (1986) – Helen Taussig, pediatric cardiologist, first woman full professor at Johns Hopkins (1959), helped create the Blalock-Taussig shunt, a surgical technique which corrected “blue baby” syndrome, contributed to the ban on thalidomide in the 1960s, first woman president of the American Heart Association (1965), awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • May 25, 1889 (1975) – Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, pioneer civil rights activist, organizer of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, she pioneered the tactic of non-violent resistance
  • May 25, 1905 (1995) – Dorothy Wesley, librarian and historian, one of the first African- American women to earn a master’s degree in library science (Howard University, 1932), as curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University, she helped it become a world renowned resource on the history and culture of African-Americans
  • May 25, 1910 (1997) – Mary Keyserling, economist, Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Labor Department (1964-1969), Executive Director of the National Consumers’ League (1938), and personal advisor to Eleanor Roosevelt in the Office of Civilian Defense
  • May 25, 1928 – Mary Wells Lawrence, first woman executive of an advertising firm, first woman CEO of a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, named Advertising Woman of the Year (1971)
  • May 25, 1887 (1943) – Sue Shelton White, Tennessee suffragist, attorney, and general counsel who participated in National Woman Party’s Washington demonstrations, burning an effigy of President Wilson in front of the White House on Feb. 9, 1919. She helped write Tennessee’s first married women’s property bill, an old age pension act, and a mother’s pension act
  • May 26, 1916 (1976) – Helen Kanahele, labor organizer in Hawaii, worked with the Women’s Auxiliary of the International Longshoreman’s and Warehousemen’s Union (1949-51) and the United Public Workers union, subpoenaed before the Territorial Committee on Subversive Activities in the 1950’s because of her labor organizing and opposition to the death penalty
  • May 26, 1924 (1977) – Thelma Hill, dancer, choreographer, educator, co-founder of the New York Negro Ballet Company (1954), one of the founders of the dance troupe that became the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, after an injury focused on teaching dance
  • May 26, 1951 (2012) – Sally Ride, astrophysicist, first American woman astronaut
  • May 27, 1861 (1907) – Victoria Earle Matthews, African American author, essayist, newspaperwoman, settlement worker, and activist
  • May 27, 1907 (1964) – Rachel Carson, scientist and environmentalist, wrote Silent Spring which became a cornerstone of the modern environmental protection movement
  • May 27, 1909 (1997) – Mary Fieser, organic chemist, co-wrote the textbook Organic Chemistry in 1944, and the series Reagents for Organic Synthesis (1967-1994) a constantly updated standard laboratory reference
  • May 28, 1913 (1989) – May Swenson, poet, first published in 1954, wrote 11 volumes of poetry (plus four published posthumously), showed a great love of the outdoors and nature, writer-in-residence at several universities including Bryn Mawr and Purdue University
  • May 28, 1922 (1999) – Lucille Kallen, television comedy writer, novelist, wrote humorous skits with Mel Tolkin for Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar (1950-54), also wrote for Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, wrote mysteries in her late 70s
  • May 30 or 31, 1910 (1989) – Maria Teresa Babin, Puerto Rican writer, poet, literary critic, and educator, taught in U.S. schools and universities as well as in Puerto Rico
  • May 31, 1824 (1902) – Jessie Benton Frémont, writer and political activist, as the wife of military officer, explorer and politician John C. Frémont, she aided his explorations, documented their travels, and played an active role in California and national politics
  • May 31, 1912 (1997) – Chien-Shiung Wu, renowned physicist, first Chinese-American elected to National Academy of Science (1958), first woman elected President of American Physical Society (1975), received National Medal of Science (1975)
  • May 31, 1924 (1985) – Patricia Harris, lawyer and ambassador, first African-American woman to hold a Cabinet position, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (1979-83), serve as an Ambassador (Luxembourg, 1965), and head a law school (Howard University, 1969)
  • May 31, 1928 – Sonia Pressman Fuentes, NOW co-founder, first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC